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The men’s 2020 World Championship road race will close the four days of elite competition in Imola, Italy. For some, it will be their first major competition since lockdown, while others will be arriving straight from France after a dramatic finish to the Tour de France. Who will have the advantage in Imola?
The riders will face a tough 28.8km circuit going around nine times, up climbs that reach 15% gradients and flying down technical descents before returning to the Formula One track for a 3km straight and wide road finish. Conjuring up memories from Yorkshire, the forecast shows rain for Sunday’s race.
Below are our favorites for the rainbow stripes, and a few dark horses who could pull off a surprise win like Mads Pedersen in 2019.
In the final race before the world was shut down, Michael Woods suffered a dramatic crash at Paris-Nice. The Canadian had a broken femur and was facing an abrupt end to his season – no Tour, no Olympics, or World Championships.
The shutdown turned out to be an odd twist of fate. The quarantine allowed him time for a full recovery before returning to training at the same time that Spain lifted restrictions for professional cyclists to train outdoors. He returned to racing at Strade Bianche, before racing to a solo stage win at Tireeno-Adriatico and leading GC for several days.
Canada has never won a World Championship in the road race. Its team consists of only four riders, including Woods and his soon-to-be new teammate at Israel Start-Up Nation, Alex Cataford. Hugo Houle is hot off domestique duties at the Tour and Guillaume Boivin, who is out of his contract at the end of the season.
Wout van Aert
The Belgian is a heavy favorite after his successful restart to the season. Despite working as a super domestique the last few weeks for Primoz Roglic at the Tour, he managed to snag five top 5 finishes, including two stage wins. Palmarès show he has made a full recovery since his horrific crash in the time trial at the 2019 Tour.
Van Aert returned from Covid-19 lockdown, blasting out of the gates to win Strade Bianche and Milano-Sanremo, and a stage win and the points classification at the Critérium du Dauphiné. He will have a strong Belgian team behind him, including Tiesj Benoot, Greg Van Avermaet, and Jasper Stuyven who are also arriving straight from the Tour.
It has been 23 years since France celebrated a world championship win when Laurent Brochard won in 1997. Alaphilippe has finished twice in the top ten at Worlds the last few years. He restarted his season strongly, finishing second at Milano-Sanremo behind Van Aert. He arrives in Italy after an impressive showing at the Tour, winning the second stage and animating the race over the three weeks.
The high mountains got the best of him in France, but the punchy circuit in Imola should favor his talents. Supporting his bid will be both Guillaume Martin, who finished third on GC at the Dauphiné and Nans Peters, who won a stage at the Tour.
What a dream scenario it would be for Roglic to win at Worlds, on the same team as Tadej Pogacar, after his crushing loss at the Tour. The world was treated to a dramatic show the last three weeks, watching the two countrymen battle for yellow in France. Now, they are teammates, alongside strongmen Luka Mezgec, Jan Polanc, and veteran Janez Brajkovic. The Slovenian’s have one of the strongest teams on the roster.
The road race course should favor Roglic strengths. He beat Pogacar in their national championship road race in June, before Pogacar turned it around to beat him in the time trial. Roglic has been consistent since the restart, winning the Tour de l’Ain, and a stage at the Dauphiné and then the Tour. Both Pogacar and Roglic are on flying form, with the possibility of making history in earning the first rainbow jersey for their country.
While the world and peloton will be fixated on the names above, there are many more that will be flying under their radar hoping to surprise us. The crammed season has been so unpredictable, seeing some who have florished in quarantine, and others struggling in their return to racing.
Jakob Fuglsang won Lombardia in a late attack dropping George Bennett. The Astana veteran has a strong, eight-man Danish squad including Niklas Eg and one-day specialists, Michael Valgren and Mikkel Frølich Honoré. The team will be fighting to defend Denmark’s first win last season, in the absence of Mads Pedersen.
A last minute change of venue has likely given a boost to our next pick. Nibali has had a tough season since making the move to Trek-Segafredo this year. He finished fourth on GC at Paris-Nice prior to the shut down, but has struggled since the restart. He finished just inside the top 20 at Tirreno-Adriatico last week. As a multiple grand tour champion, the Italian is never one to dismiss.
The German National Road Champion was on his way to a top-ten finish at Il Lombardia when a private car entered the course in the final kilometers, taking Schachmann down. He suffered a broken collarbone but recovered enough to race the Tour de France, animating several stages in the breakaway. He arrives in Imola with a full, eight-man squad that will also include John Degenkolb and Simon Geschke.